Finding strength in your “weakness”

Reducing the impact of a vice isn’t necessarily trying to eliminate it. We will probably always have at least a fraction of our childhood vices still in us. Instead, try to funnel it into something good, utilizing it differently to accentuate its potentially positive reciprocal.

Couldn’t sleep at all due to the endo pain but was able to fill eight pages in a random notebook with this before typing it up. Help me sleep. Please.

I have long maintained that many beautiful concepts have deep tragedies to them. I see, acknowledge, and appreciate the oft-ignored nooks and crannies of experience and of being, a strong witness to their darknesses, shadows, and the gems enveloped (or even later produced) by them. I’ve come to believe it’s part of the INFJ type, and perhaps among the reasons we are nicknamed “the Mystic” is because we are likelier to be privvy to the otherwise lost or forgotten gifts of deeper universal significance.

My personal outlook on this has taken a long time to develop. Aspect I share with others that I saw as valuable, beautiful, or forgiveable in them were not in myself. I couldn’t see my victories — small or big — as events or processes worth celebrating but congratulated others for things they themselves reportedly saw as minute gestures. Much of this stemmed from self-loathing, feelings of worthlessness and futility. I had higher expectations for myself than I had for those around me, marginally so. But I criticized my efforts, thoughts, feelings, and conduct in ways completely counterintuitive and ultimately counterproductive to growth. I was angry at myself for imagined attributes I didn’t really have or attributes I associated to others in completely inaccurate ways. I think it’s pretty normal for children and younger adolescents to make faulty connections like this. Normal but unhealthy and sadly, I’d say unhealthy habits, thought processes, self talk, etc are all extremely normal, even in adults.

Having C-PTSD and growing up with abuse from pretty much all directions however, I took those faulty connections to some pretty devastating extremes. (Trigger warning: Disordered thoughts – eating disorder + c-ptsd & casual descriptions of SI behaviors)

The word “fat” for instance describes something or someone with superficially noticeable girth when used as an adjective. “With superficially noticeable girth” and that is literally it. But due to connotations from society/the media, people I was associating with at the time or had associated with, and my own family, I strongly believed in absurd, forced associations like “lacking in (self-)control,” “lazy,” “sloppy,” and most importantly to me, “weak.” None of these associations are inherently true of someone who is or something that is “fat” and that word should not be a dirty, hurtful word as it is often intended and thus received. I wasn’t “fat,” although my hips have always been wide and I have big thighs (so technically I guess, I have a “fat” butt and always did, but that doesn’t mean it is anything but of “superficially noticeable girth.”) However, I did lack in self-control, was hypersensitive, and cried all the time and a lot. (Still cry quite a bit tbh.) In fact, I was often taunted with the word “crybaby” pretty much everywhere and those who didn’t straight-up use that word (like my family) certainly generously implied it.

I realize now that due to the sexual trauma as a toddler (so I experienced body shame early), my own mother and grandmother’s views of “fat” being directly correlated with a person’s integrity, (my mother had her own disordered thinking), abuse in terms of my own weight from both my mother and a “friend” I had at the time, endometrial pain, limitations, and other symptoms, as well as my own lack of self-awareness and insight at the time, I quickly began to see my fat as directly connected to my negative traits. I came to see the flesh on my bones and ultimately my whole body as the enemy to strength and development.

I should not have to clarify how wrong I was or more importantly, how detrimental that line of thinking is to a person. Not just to their own growth and development but to their body, life, future, and health (mental, emotional, and physical.) I was hurting so much both physically and emotionally trying to “starve” the “weakness” out. I also tried cutting the “weakness” out of me. I tried burning “it” out. And, less often but still too often, I tried killing “it” altogether by trying to kill myself.

I never really had an “ultimate goal weight.” I’d occasionally think of arbitrary unhealthy numbers that got lower and lower as I began to reach them. And this is because my ultimate goal was really destroy my weakness(es.) My faulty connections told me that I and my body both were the embodiments of weakness, and the only way to destroy the weakness was to destroy myself and the vessel — or “cage” — that carried me. Other people definitely aided in that destruction but during the times I chose to be aware of that, I also chose not to care — or even worse, I sometimes chose to welcome it.

Truthfully, I do believe we all must hold ourselves accountable for the choices we have made. They’re ultimately on us, but it is also important to consider context, contributing factors that motivated those choices. I didn’t believe I deserved happiness, wellness, or love. I can safely say however that despite my self-destructive behaviors, these are things I always wanted. Not understanding their real definitions though, or moreover what those things would actually look like for me, much of my self-destructive or in some cases even destructive decisions could’ve been considered in counterproductive pursuit of those things.

Happiness is something I never believed in. Honestly, as young as I was, it was pretty clear to me that people are generally very unhappy. Particularly, no one I had ever met seemed happy. I could tell because I had the knowledge then, even if subconscious, that truly happy people don’t intentionally damage people, whether others or themselves. (To be brutally honest though, you damage one, you tend to damage the other.)

I also didn’t believe in the word “wellness.” My above observations were part of this, but I also had been convinced since early childhood and eventually compounded the mistaken belief myself that I was irrevocably mentally ill and freakish and only going to get sicker and more alone.

This erroneous belief has actually dominated most of my life. It has negatively impacted my interpersonal relationships (and intrapersonal relationship) greatly, as well as many of my life choices, all or almost all of which — in association with that schema — have been extremely poor decisions. I firmly believed I’d commit suicide by 15, then after the ones by 15 didn’t work, I thought “Well, definitely 18.” Alternatively, I figured I’d either die in a “client’s” apartment (figuring that was all I was “good” for even though I would think that of nobody else), or be institutionalized until I rotted away in an unmarked grave of a state hospital.

All of these outcomes are very dramatic and also very tragic for a child to believe. To me, there was no such thing as “wellness,” and if there was, I believed I’d never get the chance to find it.

So my misinterpretation of “strength” was what “wellness” was closest to in my eyes. I thought it meant showing no vunlerability, no “weakness.” Consequently, it means showing no emotion, “betraying” no feeling. This was especially important to me interpersonally as my “betrayals” of feelings and thoughts were regularly invalidated and weaponized. Sharing myself or pieces of myself became self-betrayals then, like I was not only admitting to the world all of my “disgusting weaknesses,” but also burdening it with them by somehow “glorifying” them. It made those I loved clearly suffer when they did decide to acknowledge it, treating my pain like a burden they alone had to carry. When they chose not to, it was something to belittle and mock. So I became hyperaware of how my feelings might affect others, as well as how my vulnerability cheapened me in their eyes.

I never really hardened though. If anything, I’ve become more aware, more compassionate, and more honest and open throghout my life, almost in a linear compounded transformation although it’s worth noting psychological metamorphoses are rarely very linear. I learned to actively distrust people which needless to say is not always a good thing. But I choose what I say and what I reveal more wisely and am more cautious with whom I let into and keep in my life. Never really trusting people, my desperation for connection, understanding, companionship, and at times, love, drove me from my intuition and long-term decision making, despite trusting no one to begin with.

Boundaries are still things I am actively learning how to set and maintain, but I’ve improved on that considerably. It took a long time but I learned expressing one’s feelings, clearly and directly, is part of strength. It is a part of wellness; a part of happiness. The strength is about the act of sharing those things but also crucially it is present with a mindful delivery. Being clear and direct are important aspects of being assertive (or strong), but for a long time I actually associated strength with total submission. Perhaps a bit crude, but I associated “true strength” with “shutting up and taking it and continuing to shut up.” I thought (and I’m pretty aware now this was taught to me at more than a subconscious level) that strength was never expressing one’s pain (or expressing oneself at all), never showing pain (including flinching, wincing, etc), and never arguing against your own mistreatment but simply just “soldiering” on.

I never managed to be taciturn in really any sense of the word. Because of this, my shame only grew. I never had illusions that “strong” people didn’t hurt or that I would never hurt. Again, at perhaps too early of an age, I learned that pain was a major part of life — and for everyone. While alive still, there was no way for someone to escape negative feelings or experiences. But I also was extremely convinced that strength involved ignoring or totally shutting down/off those emotions. All emotions. I felt shame when I laughed at something funny or squealed in excitement. I felt shame for feeling anything, positive or negative, because I felt further and miles-deep shame for letting anything of myself show.

But I couldn’t stop.

I couldn’t stop crying or laughing, smiling or frowning. I had a very hard time keeping microexpressions under control as well even though I was frequently (and painfully) aware of them. The amount of energy I put into trying to hide what I was experiencing exhausted me so much that it regularly and totally backfired, leading me to further isolation, self-harm, desperation, emotional outbursts, and other depressive symptoms.

Being inauthentic has always been excruciatingly hard on me when I have tried to be. While INFJs are often said to have a bit of a “chameleon” trait because of our heightened perception of others’ emotions and sensitivites (Fe), the only social “camouflaging” I’ve ever been able to do is socially absorb or mimic unhealthy behaviors. Needless to say this is neither an effective nor a healthy assimilation strategy and recognition of this tendency has greatly contributed to me being more selective in the people I surround myself with. That was very much fakeness, a true self-betrayal in which I would even betray my own values, and I caused damage to others and further damage to myself in the process.

Authenticity when managed wisely is an expression for me of wellness, happiness, love, and actually true, genuine strength. It i sthe act, process, and state of being confident in and valuing myself as a whole person and actively accepting that there are plenty of people out there who will neither like nor accept my authentic self. I am still learning (but learning nonetheless) that that’s only my problem if I let it be my problem. I am compassionate and insightful, self-aware and aware of others. I have many positive traits and yes, negative traits: I am often headstrong and can be pretentious. I am often emotionally charged by circumstances and really slow in crises. I do still often “overshare” and show too much vulnerability than is comfortable for others. I know I am difficult to handle, but I also know that my positive traits and my true potential (which I am actively working towards) can outweigh my vices. I also know that for as long as I am alive, I can learn, grow, adapt, and change. In fact, I’m committed to continuously living that fact. I have always valued self-improvement and have always pursued the idea of it, regardless of how unhealthy and misguided my definitions of self-improvement were when I was younger.

I think one reason I am tolerant of certain behaviors than others may be (for both better and worse), is because I see the potential others do not. I acknowledge an individual’s potential and consider the depth and complexity of their shadowy alcoves. I find that vices are often closely related with virtues (and vice versa), especially when they are very prominent in a person. Someone’s lack of consideration for others for instance, however negative a trait that is, can frequently signal strong ambition (looking at you, Slytherins) or a strong sense of self-preservation, both of which can be excellent traits. Someone then who is overemotional and hypersensitive probably experiences the nuanced world very profoundly, thereby often having a natural inclination towards creativity and emotional insights. A person who is stubborn can use that drive to assert themselves and help stand up for others. Reducing the impact of a vice isn’t necessarily trying to eliminate it. We will probably always have at least a fraction of our childhood vices still in us. Instead, try to funnel it into something good, utilizing it differently to accentuate its potentially positive reciprocal.

Like a type’s natural cognitive functions and then their shadow functions in Jungian typology, harmonly lies in finding your own unique and effective balance for who you are and the traits you have and behaviors you are prone to or inclined towards. Growth is about personal insight, accountability, and being proactive with what comes out of it.

There are diamonds in all of our rough. The key is for us to apply a healthy amount of pressure to those dark, foreboding places inside ourselves in order to reveal the dazzling potential that was always there.

I do believe not everyone can or will develop into a healthy, happy person. In fact, I emphatically believe most people do not at any point in their lives. But who those people are isn’t something anyone ever really knows for sure. That being said, while people’s own reactions to their pain and/or others’ behavior is ultimately on them, I strongly believe we all at least consider the possible impact of our own actions and act accordingly. There have been plenty of times when I have not done this, and I regret that to this day.

As a closing note, I feel it is essential to act with love but also essential to set and maintain boundaries — acting with self-love in mind as well — and being aware that one can love a person from a distance and that love, which includes compassion and mercy, is not the same as submission, enabling, or “shutting up and taking” another person’s toxicity.

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